(Published in "Good Roads" Magazine, December, 1892.)
The question of good roads is one of the most important that now confronts the farmers of Illinois, and it relates to a class of internal improvement that the State will have to take hold of with a resolute spirit. The time has come when a citizen of Illinois should be able to drive from one end of his State to the other with a team at all times of the year. We have astounded the world in the building of great cities, great railroads, great shops and great factories; we have built up a splendid agriculture, and have pushed the development of our wonderful resources, and the attention as well as the energies of the people have been directed towards these ends; but we find that nothing has been done toward the making of highways that shall be passable the year round, consequently there are months in every year in which it is impossible for the farmer or the merchant to drive his team twenty-five miles with even half a load; in short, we have made no practical progress toward the improvement of our roads. Both the inconvenience and the actual loss resulting from this, falls mostly upon the farmer, though to some extent it is shared by the whole community. As a result of impassable roads, the farmer is frequently prevented from taking his grain and other products to market at a time when they would bring the best prices, while at other times the railroads, being driven beyond their capacity by the glutted freight and store houses, when the roads are good enough to permit of the grain and other products being brought to market, are liable to be short of cars, and having to do the whole business in a kind of irregular way, will keep the freight charges up to a higher point than would be necessary if the country roads were good enough to insure a more uniform supply, and thus give the railroads something like an even business. With better wagon roads less rolling stock would then be required to fill the demands of the carrying trade, and, upon the whole, the railroads would be subject to less expense. Then, again, attempting to team in the mud wears out not only the wagon and the harness, but tends to exhaust and break down the horses; so that one day's teaming in the deep mud will sometimes cause more loss to a farmer in these respects than a whole month's teaming on good roads. Again, the people in the cities and the villages are subject to inconvenience, and sometimes to extra expense, because, owing to impassable roads, produce cannot be brought to market. In view of these considerations, and for other excellent reasons which might be multiplied to great length, the time
192has come when a great and proud State, like that of Illinois, greater and grander than any of the ancient empires of the earth, and one of the richest, most powerful and most wonderful States in the civilized world of to-day, should have highways from one end of her borders to the other, which can be traveled with comfort every day of the year. Years ago the State had something like an internal improvement system. I believe the greater part of the Chicago & Alton Railroad was built by the State. Other great enterprises that were calculated to develop the resources of the State, to bind the people together and give them rapid means of transportation, were aided and carried out by the patronage of the State government. The time seems now to have come when the State must again take up this subject of internal improvement, especially in so far as it relates to the making of new roads, and it should be done upon a comprehensive system, so as to insure something like uniformity from one end of the State to the other; otherwise we might have cases where one county, or perhaps one township, would build a good road and then the adjoining township or county would not, and thus a kind of fragmentary improvement would result.
As to how the expense should be borne is a matter of detail that will require a good deal of examination. It is possible that in most cases a part of the expense could be levied in the form of an assessment upon land along the route, that derived some special benefit from the road, and that another part of the expense could be paid by the county; and it is possible and perhaps proper that in some instances the State should contribute something. I will not attempt to go into the details of this, but when once taken hold of in a resolute way, the problem of expense can be readily solved.
As to the material with which to build improved roads, some difference of opinion exists. Some engineers claim that a good quality of clay can be found at no great depth all over the State. Assuming this to be true, this clay might be dug up at different points along the road where it is needed and burned right there into hard, irregular fragments; that is, instead of attempting to mould it into bricks, or regularly shaped blocks, it could be so burned in small, irregularly shaped chunks, as to become hard as stone, and thus could be used to make a "macadamized" road. It is claimed for this system that clay thus burnt would make even a better road than stone, and that
193by reason of the small cost of hauling, the road could be made without very great expense. Other engineers advocate the making of macadamized roads out of crushed stone, and claim that a road-bed wide enough to provide for the passage of four teams abreast could be built at a cost ranging from $2,500 to $3,000 a mile. They also urge that, inasmuch as the State owns large quarries, the State convicts instead of being "hired out" at a few cents a day to work for contractors, who thus enhance their own private fortunes, should be set to work breaking stone to be shipped to various points and used in building roads. This plan has a great deal to recommend it, and I must say, strikes me favorably. I do not say that all convicts, should be set at this work, but that a very large proportion of them should be. It is further urged in favor of this plan, that as the railroads would get their freight to carry with more regularity after good roads were built, and would thus be able to operate their roads more cheaply, they could well afford to make very reasonable rates for the haulage of this crushed stone from the penitentiary to points near where it may be needed on the road.
Again, some gentlemen who have given this subject much consideration, have arrived at the conclusion that, as the public roads now generally run on section lines and make right angles around quarter sections of land, while the railroads generally run direct from one point to another, so that the distance by railroad between towns is generally considerably less than it is by wagon road, and as the railroads generally run to what may be called "centers," it would be a good plan when constructing new roads to follow the railroad so far as was practicable; that in this way the distance would be shortened, that the new roads in all cases would then lead direct to central points, and that the material for making the roads could in this way be hauled on the cars right along from place to place and left at the exact spot where needed, thus saving the hauling of the material from the cars to points more or less distant, as would be necessary in the improvement of the roads already located. There is, of course, the objection to this plan, that in many instances there would be danger of horses becoming frightened at the passing trains; but all these questions are matters of detail. It may be that, when the subject is once taken hold of in earnest, an entirely new plan can be devised, differing from anything that has yet been discussed, and leading to a satisfactory solution of the whole problem. However this may be, the time has about come for the mud road to go.